Now, they'll put that big-game mettle to the test Saturday evening when hosting Real Salt Lake for Match 3 of their Round One Best-of-3 series (6 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). The winner advances in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, hosting Sporting Kansas City for a Western Conference Semifinal later this month.
"It’s what these guys do," Olsen told reporters this week. "The good teams, [pressure] brings out the best in them. And for the most part, this year when we’ve been against the wall, we’ve managed to step up. I expect us to have a good performance. It’s going to need to be a good performance, towards great performance, for us to get by a really good team. That’s the challenge and it’s one we’re embracing.
"We certainly have the team to do it," Olsen said. "I think we have the mentality. We’ve been through some big games that were do-or-die already this year. Hopefully we can just continue in that form."
Houston largely weren't pegged as a trophy contender this year, last making the postseason in 2017. But they brought in 17 players for Olsen's first season, resulting in their Héctor Herrera-led rise to the West's No. 4 seed and 51 points (14W-11L-9D record).
"How enjoyable this process has been in working with [general manager] Pat [Onstad] and [technical director] Asher [Mendelsohn] and the group jelling off the field, some of the camaraderie and the culture-building part, maybe that’s been sped up a little bit more than I thought it would be," said the former D.C. United player and head coach.
"That’s been great. That part I’m really happy about and I’ve enjoyed the year and just like the players, I don’t want it to end. I want to push this thing."
Now, Houston have heightened expectations and are focused on maximizing this opportunity. But it won't be easy against RSL, who posted a West-leading eight road wins this season and have striker Cristian Arango back from a hamstring injury.
"We’ve said it over the last couple of months: We have to take advantage of this," Olsen said. "We want to stay in this thing. We want to enjoy each other’s company more, and that means we have to advance this weekend.
"I think the expectations of our team now overall are greater than maybe I thought they would be in this moment. I love that we’re getting critiqued for tying an away game at Salt Lake. That means we’re moving in the right direction. We won, then tied away and are here for a third game at home, and the expectations are probably that we should win this game, because we’re at home. So that’s great, that’s what we’ve signed on for and that’s where we want to push this club."